Gillard is up the creek in dire need of a paddle
A straightforward decision by the High Court: the government’s “Malaysian solution” was illegal. But that simple decision is surrounded by a kaleidoscope of complexities, conundrums and challenges. Julia Gillard has to find a way through the maze, and come out of it with a policy which will not cause key elements of her support base to rebel against her.
The maze is complex indeed. The Greens are demanding that all asylum seekers be vetted in Australia. This would be a massive “pull” factor, which goes against the oft-stated aim of the government to stop the boats.
But with the Greens holding a balance of power in the Senate, and one Green, Adam Bandt, holding the tenure of the government with his single vote in the House, there will have to be some real ducking and weaving.
Unfortunately for the Labor Cabinet, the left faction(s) of the party are equally convinced that any Pacific solution is not on. The caucus room contains a solid, albeit minority view, which is increasingly hostile on this issue, and increasingly annoyed with the directions, policies and failures of their government.
Julia Gillard’s criticism of the High Court, and especially the Chief Justice, can hardly be justified when the advice from her own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is reported to have told her that the Malaysian solution did not accord with the Migration Act.
It also seriously annoyed another key player. Andrew Wilkie, who is already holding the government to ransom over poker machines, described the Prime Minister’s comments as disrespectful to the separation of the executive and the judiciary.
She has to produce a victory on this one. There is a long list of policy failures which go back to the Rudd government. Another one would probably be the last straw. But she has more than an uphill battle, and is losing the asylum seeker case in the court of public opinion. On Monday, Newspoll reported a damning answer to the question concerning whether the government was doing a good or bad job on the issue of asylum seekers.
The answers were catastrophic for the Labor government, with 78 per cent stating it was doing a bad job; only 12 per cent said “good”. More damaging was the response from Labor voters – 64 per cent said “bad”.
The government has also been given advice that the High Court decision probably rules out all sites for a “Pacific solution”. So where can she go to try to turn this awful mess into a policy?
The most logical method is that if the Act is the problem, then move rapidly to amend the Act so that it does allow a legal off-shore solution. But this would not bring support from the Greens, and the left of the Labor party might actually stand firm on its principle. So the attempt would be defeated in both houses of parliament.
Enter a White Knight! Tony Abbott has stated that he is willing to discuss the matter with Julia Gillard, and attempt to achieve a bipartisan solution. This would sideline the Greens out of the equation. Of course politics comes into this magnanimous offer.
If any bipartisan policy emerges, then it would require Julia Gillard to climb down a considerable distance, especially in terms of the confrontational rhetoric she has consistently used against anything proposed by Tony Abbott.
On the other hand, if a bipartisan position is reached, it might even become infectious on other policies. And that would be something positive.
But without some agreement across Labor and Coalition, the complications seem insoluble. Hence if anyone knows the email address of King Solomon, Julia Gillard needs him.
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